President 0. Dead man 1
This past Wednesday, President Donald Trump should have had a successful day touting the military, the economy, job creation, American weapons superiority and his commitment to a robust military. Instead, when he visited the General Dynamics plant for an official Presidential visit, he went on a five-minute tirade against John McCain, a dead man. That became the story the media focused on. Who could blame them? The President said he wanted to talk about McCain in large part because of the media.
President Trump’s $2 billion spending bill saved that plant and added hundreds of jobs in Lima, Ohio. He had a story to tell, but he stepped all over himself, and in the process, both he and his core supporters decided to fight yesterday’s battle against a dead man.
President Trump does have reason to be bitter about McCain. McCain did seemingly turn over the Christopher Steele dossier to the FBI. McCain did promise to repeal Obamacare and then voted against the repeal effort in the Senate. To be fair, I would have done the same. The repeal effort was a phony, fraudulent effort that would not have actually repealed Obamacare. Of all the things to hold against McCain, his refusal to commit a fraud with his Republican colleagues should not be one of them.
Then there is McCain’s war record. He is unquestionably an American hero. President Trump argues that just because a person is captured does not mean the person becomes a hero. That is a fair point. But McCain stayed in captivity longer than he needed to. He had ample opportunity to get out of the “Hanoi Hilton” and refused. He did not want to give the North Vietnamese communists a win.
We should all stare in amazement that a dead man could so thoroughly embed himself under the skin of not just the most powerful man in the world but under the skin of President Trump’s supporters, too. It is deeply ironic that many of the people now joining President Trump in savaging McCain were his ardent supporters in 2008 just because he was the Republican nominee.
In this fight, the dead man won; you can’t beat a dead man. Why? He’s dead. Americans intuitively understand you don’t speak ill of the dead and it is impolite to attack a man 6 feet under, unable to defend himself and unable to actually thank the President for his own funeral — one of President Trump’s stated grievances with John McCain.
Come on, folks. Like scratching an itch, it may feel good to lash out at McCain, but it also has serious potential to lead to infection. President Trump already has the Republican base. Guess what? There are not enough of them to win the 2020 election.
Instead, President Trump is going to have to persuade other voters to vote for him. He has to do that by helping them move beyond their reasons for opposing him in 2016 and process that the Democrats are more insane than he is.
But continuing this fixation with McCain reminds a lot of conservatives who sat out 2016 why they sat it out. It also makes the President look crazier than any one of the Democrats. Lastly, it provides the media ample runway with which they can get away from the story the President’s team wants to tell.
Message discipline is something this White House needs to work on. Self-control is something this President needs to work on. I am voting for President Trump in 2020. But I see no reason to defend the indefensible. John McCain was an American war hero who served with distinction and honor both in the military and in the United States Senate, even if I often disagreed with him on policy positions. He is also dead. There’s no reason to keep digging up his memory to dump on it.
Erick Erickson is a nationally syndicated columnist.